Coverfire

Showdown 7-06 (Summus Proelium)

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That saying ‘all hell broke loose’ didn’t apply here. Not because violence didn’t erupt, but because those words in that order utterly failed to really portray just how much violence erupted and just how quickly. Hell didn’t break loose, it was a meteor that suddenly and apocalyptically slammed into the Earth. Followed by several more meteors that came slamming in behind the first because they just couldn’t stand to miss all the fun.  

Honestly, the best analogy I had for it was one time when I had needed to ask Simon something a few years back. I’d gone into his room to find him lying on his bed with his headphones on. Next to the door was his wall-to-wall sound system, so I’d just reached out and hit a button with the headphone symbol on it. Pretty dumb, I know. It turned off the headphones, and suddenly the entire room had been flooded with screaming, earsplitting metal music. It had, with the touch of a button, shifted all that music from being pumped through his headphones to being pumped through the dozen different high-end speakers he had scattered throughout all of his rooms. My ears had practically been ringing for days after that little mistake. 

That’s what this was like. Not that it had been exactly peaceful before, but when the Ninety-Niner and Oscuro troops had surrounded Pack (and her pack), Eits, That-A-Way, Syndicate, Whamline, Wobble, Carousel, and me, the violence had at least paused. Mostly because we really hadn’t stood the slightest ghost of a chance in that position, against those kind of numbers. But now that Blackjack and more of La Casa had, in turn, surrounded the Oscuro and Ninety-Niners, everything just sort of exploded. Violently. 

For me, ‘violence exploded’ was pretty apt, considering basically the same instant everyone started fighting, just as I dropped my phone back in the pocket that hadn’t been cut open, something hit me. It was Cuélebre’s tail. I saw it coming from the corner of my eye, just in time to activate a bit of the orange within the image I’d painted across my costume. Even then, the tail still struck me with enough force that I was lifted clear off the ground and sent hurtling through the air with a belated scream. Flailing, I failed to actually right myself properly before colliding with a dumpster near the corner of the loading dock behind the store. The orange paint meant I didn’t end up with any broken bones (or worse), but I was still dazed, slumping to the asphalt with a low groan as my vision went a little blurry for a moment. 

The fighting, of course, didn’t stop for me. Gunshots and more filled the air, even as I groggily lifted my head to stare in that direction, trying to blink the daze away. Two Ninety-Niner thugs with shotguns were hoisted off their feet, slammed into one another, and hurled away in opposite directions by a couple of Whamline’s coils. Those same coils exploded in front of Coverfire, the concussive force knocking him away from That-A-Way while he was still trying to grab her. An instant later, there was a sharp whistling sound and a narrow distortion in the air slammed into Whamline. It was Silbón, a guy from Oscuro with a dark wide-brimmed hat over a dark gray face mask that left his mouth exposed and ragged clothes. 

Silbón was joined by a couple Oscuro thugs firing guns. They were set upon by Twinkletoes and Holiday. One of the Syndicates was on the ground. Another was shot at several times, but the bullets went through his semi-translucent body. The guy who shot at him was hit by one of those electric shopping carts directed by one of Eits’ mites (going faster than I thought those carts were capable of), just before one of the La Casa troops dove into him, both thugs rolling across the ground as they each fought for leverage against the other. 

Violence. Fighting. More than I could possibly hope to follow. Double Down, Blackjack, Cardsharp, and another member of La Casa named Hardway (a guy who manipulated inertia and motion of himself or things around him) were fighting Cuélebre and Sandon. The latter wore a modernized suit of armor with a lion’s pelt over the back, its fake ‘head’ functioning as her helmet and mask. They were all fighting in a jumble of motion and violence. Everyone was. It was all blurred movements, gunshots, powers flying off, the roar of animals and screams of both anger and pain. By the time I dragged myself off the ground, half the people there were down for one reason or another. Some would be down for much longer than others, but either way, the violence was taking its toll. This was too many people with too many powers and weapons in too close of quarters. Even as I took a step that way, my eyes caught sight of Pack and That-A-Way, bumping up against each other just as a figure loomed up behind them. It was another teenager, though definitely not part of the Minority. He wore the completely cliche ‘inmate’ outfit of a black and white striped prison suit with a black burglar mask and one of those prisoner numbers written across the front of the striped shirt. I had… no idea what his powers were. But before either That-A-Way or Pack could react, his hands grabbed each of them by the shoulders and all three disappeared. The ‘prisoner’ guy as well as both girls vanished. 

No! No, no, no! Where were they?! What– then I realized that Pack’s creatures must have been linked to her or something, because all of them disappeared a second later too. Hopefully, whatever prisoner boy had been doing, he hadn’t planned on that. 

But I didn’t have time to think about it. I didn’t have time to think about anything. Suddenly, just as I saw the group vanish in front of my eyes, a guy grabbed me from behind. It was just some random Ninety-Niner thug. I smelled awful alcohol breath as he yanked me off my feet with an arm around my waist, his other hand groping down my side toward the unruined pocket as he snarled, “Okay, kid, where’s the other vials, huh?! Where are they?!” 

That was what it took. Up to that point, since the moment Cuélebre’s tail had knocked me thirty feet into the dumpster, everything had taken on a bit of a dreamlike quality. My ears had been ringing, and I’d just sort of been staring at all this fighting in a daze for the past few seconds, as if I wasn’t really there. It was like I was watching all of this on television rather than interacting with it. But this guy grabbing me, that was enough to snap me out of all that and make me remember that I was actually involved.

As the guy groped over my leg looking for my pocket, I quickly turned that part of my pants blue and activated it, sending his hand snapping up and back. At the same time, I drove my helmeted head backward into his face. The combination of both made him drop me with a yelp, and I turned while landing, sending a shot of red paint into his chest while my left glove turned red as well. Activating both yanked him toward me, just as my other hand turned purple and decked the guy. He hit the ground and didn’t move. 

Another guy was coming for me, but I painted my legs green and my feet purple, using that to leap up and over him, twisting in the air before coming down right on top of his shoulders. He collapsed under my weight, and as we both fell to the ground, I snapped my hand to the side, shooting a spray of yellow paint at a group of bad guys who were going after Wobble and Carousel. They suddenly slowed dramatically, giving those two a chance to deal with them while I rolled forward off the guy I had just dropped onto. 

Unfortunately, that put me right at the feet of the Oscuro Touched with the wide-brimmed hat. Silbón. His power involved whistling, of course. Basically, any time he was whistling, he was almost entirely immune to damage. He would absorb that damage, and could then expel it through a whistle. When he did, his whistle would take on the same traits as the damage he had absorbed. He could whistle to absorb bullets, whistle again to absorb lightning, and whistle a third time to absorb fire. After that, he could, at any point, use the kinetic force of the bullets, the electricity from the lightning, or the heat from the fire in his whistles. Using a damage type spent the charge of absorbing it, but he tended to have absorbed a lot. 

Just as I ended up basically half-sprawled in front of the man, staring up at his black mask under that wide hat, he pursed his lips. Eyes widening, I slapped my hand against his foot and put black paint there. 

No sound came. I’d muted him. He had a moment to somehow look surprised despite me only being able to see his lips before I twisted around and drove my foot up between his legs with a bit of purple-paint boost. Then he wasn’t interested in trying to whistle anymore. But I still kicked him a couple more times just to be sure. 

Scrambling back to my feet, I snapped my gaze over to the fighting. It was… uhh… wow. Chaotic. Still. A couple random thugs were coming for me, but I blue-launched myself up and back, flipping in the air to land on the edge of the metal awning over the loading bay. Activating a bit more orange meant that the bullets they shot up at me just made me stagger a bit before I managed to yank their guns away with a shot of red. Before they could react to that, I took a few steps back out of their line of sight, tossing the pistols away to either side. And then I sort of… doubled over and tried not to hyperventilate while hugging myself. The shouting and screaming coming from everywhere, being shot at, nearly being hit by Silbón, all of it just… just… it was too much. It was too fucking much. And what about Pack and That-A-Way?! Were they okay? What was going on? Where were they? What could I do? What–

Nothing. I couldn’t do anything for them, not at the moment. I just had to hope they were okay, and focus on what was going on right here, right now. I could do this. I had to do this. I couldn’t abandon them down there. I had to help get that vial back. 

That settled, I took a deep breath before running forward, using a mixture of purple and blue paint to launch myself into the air. Between the two, I was sent really high and really far. Sailing over the battlefield, I helped out the best way I could. Namely, I first used yellow paint to slow my own descent, then used all the time I had while passing over the fighting to hit bad guys with more yellow paint and good guys with a mixture of green, purple, and orange. Mostly green and orange, as I couldn’t expect them to suddenly know that they were strong. But being faster and tougher would help regardless. As would their opponents suddenly being much slower. 

It helped so much that, by the time I landed on the far side of the lot, dropping into a roll, most of the random Ninety-Niner and Oscuro Prevs were down. Between the four Syndicates, Wobble, Whamline, and the La Casa people, they dealt with their unpowered opponents neatly. Unfortunately, that didn’t solve the issue of the guys who did have powers. Especially Sandon and Cuélebre. And that situation had gotten worse, as I saw Hardway off on the far side of the field trapped inside Ringside’s bubble. The two of them were fighting sans any powers as Ringside had apparently elected to remove Hardway’s at the expense of her own, and both were really good at that. They would be busy for awhile. 

Meanwhile, the remaining three La Casa people were fighting the leadership of the two rival gangs. Blackjack’s power wasn’t exactly suited to straight up and prolonged confrontation, but he had Double Down and Cardsharp for that. And they were definitely earning their keep. 

As far as Sandon went, the Ninety-Niners’ leader had been around long enough that her powers were pretty well known. They revolved around bones. Yeah. Basically, touching a bone gave her access to all of that person’s strength and general toughness. If they were a Touched with enhanced strength, it gave her a portion of that as well. Of course, touching bones from multiple different people gave her each of their strength together. And the inside of her suit was apparently completely lined with little pieces of bone. She was one of the straight-up strongest people in the city just because whenever someone with super strength showed up, she made a point of hunting them down and taking a piece of bone from them if possible. Which was eeeuuuggh.  

So yeah, between Sandon and Cuélebre, there was a lot of strength on the bad guy’s side. Double Down’s ability to absorb any kinetic force that hit him and Cardsharp’s power to alter her own physical properties to make herself tougher helped deal with that somewhat, but they couldn’t actually hurt the bastards enough to put them down. The best they could do was let Double Down absorb enough kinetic force to send right back at the Oscuro and Ninety-Niner leaders, while Blackjack used his own power to watch for the right moment and target. I kept seeing him randomly using a pistol to shoot at Cuélebre’s tail for some reason. Then I noticed that every time the tail was struck, a bit of electricity shot off of it. Like it was fizzling. 

Was Cuélebre’s tail how he summoned lightning? And was Blackjack shooting it to disrupt his attempts to do so every time? Was that why he hadn’t just fried everyone already? 

Well, that and the fact that he didn’t know where the other vials were, beyond the one in his hand. That was probably why he wasn’t just throwing lightning around everywhere, beyond Blackjack stopping him from using calculated strikes. Hell, maybe that was why Blackjack was able to stop him, because it took more time for him to carefully aim or something. Enough time for Blackjack to hit that spot of his tail. 

Whatever the answer, I was just glad we weren’t fried. Because we already had enough problems. As I crouched there, trying to present as small a target as possible while watching for an opening in the midst of their busy fight, I saw it. The vial was still in Cuélebre’s hand while he was fighting. It was right there. 

Unfortunately, just as I prepared myself to try and take it from him with a careful application of red paint, there was another interruption. This one came in the form of a figure who appeared in the middle of their fight. He was a tall guy in a dark red hood and cloak over a white bodysuit with a collar that extended up over the lower half of his face. Longhaul. That was Longhaul. 

The second he appeared, the man used his power to send Blackjack, Double Down, and Cardsharp to the far side of the parking lot, while looking at his leader. “They found the car that took off, it’s on the far side of Campus Martius Park. Still no driver.” 

Wren. She was remote driving the thing to get it out of here. 

Sandon was already looking to Cuélebre, who smiled. He was looking right at me. He read my body language. “The vials. That’s where they are.” 

Blackjack was coming. So were the others. But Cuélebre bellowed a deafening, “Do it!” At the same time, his wings came slamming down, as he launched himself upward. 

And then a woman’s voice called, “Ladies and gentlemen!” At that, my eyes, as well as basically all of those attached to anyone on our side in the immediate area, snapped over to see a woman in a sexified version of a ringmaster’s outfit sitting there on a motorcycle. Where had she come from? It was Grandstand, Cuélebre’s second-in-command. Even as everyone looked that way, she smiled. “Follow the leader.” Then the motorcycle kicked into motion, peeling out and swerving around before tearing out of the lot. 

After her. We had to go after her. Everyone else was already rushing that way, leaping into action to catch up with the woman. But just as I went to follow, intent on using green and red paint to catch up and maybe stop her, a hand grabbed my arm and yanked me back. It was Eits. He shook me violently, yelling something about Cuélebre at me. But who cared about Cuélebre when–wait. 

Grandstand’s power faded a second later as Eits shook me violently once more. I snapped out of it in time to see everyone else disappearing as they took off after her. After the distraction. 

“Cuélebre!” Eits shouted at me. “He’s getting away, what do we do?!” 

“How did you–” Then I realized it was probably the fact that his focus had been split between his own mind and all of his mites. That had saved him from Grandstand’s power. And there wasn’t time to worry about it anyway. 

“Close your eyes,” I blurted, grabbing onto Eits. He had time to yelp before I launched both of us into the air through a combination of blue paint at our feet and a red paint yank at the nearby building. We went up and over the roof, while I informed the boy currently holding on for dear life, “There’s a demon trying to catch a car, and we’ve gotta catch him first.”

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Showdown 7-04 (Summus Proelium)

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Okay. Okay. So, what was my current situation? Well, I was inside a grocery store with a few random customers and employees. Pack and her lizards were outside, working on shifting into a more combat-capable force. Also outside were a combined force of Oscuro and Ninety-Niners, who had apparently banded together in an attempt to hurt Blackjack and the rest of La Casa. Meanwhile, the bulk of the La Casa people were under attack by more of those combined forces to keep them busy. Which would also undoubtedly draw the attention of any authorities and Star-Touched who were out to keep them busy as well, so the guys here would have… privacy. 

I’d just finished my terse explanation to That-A-Way and was waiting for her to say something when the line suddenly went dead. Blinking at it, I saw there was no signal. Someone out there was using a jammer, just like the Scion people had back during the party. What the hell, did they start handing out those things as prizes in cereal boxes or something? 

Abruptly, the phone buzzed in my hand with a call coming through, despite having no signal. It surprised me so much that I almost dropped the damn thing, and actually gasped. The ID on the screen said it was Wren, so I answered it. “Wren? How are you calling me, there’s–” 

“No signal, I know,” she interrupted. “I had to use the signal booster I built into the suit Ashton’s wearing. It’ll only work within a few feet, so don’t get too far away yet, okay? Plus I’m not sure how long it’ll last before that jammer overloads it. Are you…” 

“I’m fine, so far,” I replied, looking to Ashton himself. He was standing there, looking torn between fear and delight. Fear at what might happen to him, of course (particularly given the fact he was frozen), along with delight because he thought we wouldn’t get away with the last vial now. “But those guys are gonna start coming inside any minute, as soon as they’ve got this place surrounded. And call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure they’re not here to pick up milk and bread.” 

“Crap, crap, crap!” Wren blurted. “I should’ve put that teleport marker on the suit so I could pull you guys out! I meant to, I did, but I was so excited that it was done, and we wanted to get–” 

“It’s okay, Wren,” I interrupted while dragging Ashton with me toward the end of the aisle. I peeked out. The front of the store looked clear. None of the bad guys had come in yet. But I kept watching. I needed to get out there, but first things first. “What about the car? Can you, I dunno, use any kind of security feature to keep those guys out of it, just in case? One of the vials is still in there.” 

“I can drive the car out with remote control,” she quickly informed me. “But I’m not–” 

“Do it. Take the car and the vial out of here, Wren. Keep it safe. Pack and I can handle this and keep these guys busy until That-A-Way brings reinforcements. We’ve got it, I promise. But I have to go now. There’s other people in this store, and those guys are gonna break in any second. We’ll deal with this. You focus on getting that car out of here with the vial, okay?”

Reluctantly, she agreed, making me promise to be careful. I did so before disconnecting,  hoping that everything I’d just said wouldn’t end up being wrong. Because despite all my assurances to try to keep the other girl calm, I had no idea what was going to happen here. Pack and her friends were still outside, and there was no way of knowing how long it would take That-A-Way to get anyone here. For the moment, Ashton and I were basically alone in this building, aside from all the innocent people those guys would plow through in order to get to us.

Just as I tucked the phone and vial deep in my pocket, zipping it shut, one of the store employees came into view. “Uh, hey, something’s going on outside.” 

And here it went. Glancing to Ashton, I hesitated before dragging him back a few feet down the aisle out of sight. Then I simply told him, “Hang out here.” As if he had a choice, given the suit wouldn’t let him move. But at least I didn’t have to worry about him running off. The suit worked as well for that as stay-down cuffs would have.

Quickly turning to the store guy, I walked that way while asking, “Those guys outside, the gangs, what’re they doing now?” Reaching the end of the aisle, I peeked toward the front doors once more. Nothing. Aside from several customers and employees standing there staring out at something. 

His head shook quickly. “Nothing, not yet. They’re just standing out there, but they’ve got guns and… and there’s Touched with them. But there’s two different gangs, and they’re not fighting.” 

“Yeah, cuz we’re a more popular target right now,” I muttered, before looking back to him. “Look, grab those people there, and anyone else you can find, somewhere safe to hide for awhile, like the manager’s office or something. Lock the doors and stay there until the cops come. Go!” 

It must’ve been the costume or something, but the guy actually listened. He ran off toward the front, saying something to those people, who quickly followed him. Meanwhile, I looked down at myself, summoning more drawings in various colors to the suit. Over the next brief handful of seconds, the images appeared. Images of two guys fighting with swords across my torso, with mountains in the background and a bird flying through the sky overhead. A coiled snake wrapped around a spear decorated my left leg, while a man with a javelin riding a motorcycle took up the right one. My arms were covered in multicolored flames and lightning bolts. Every image had multiple colors involved, multiple paints I could activate when the time came. An entire involved mural of images stretching across my suit. 

By that point, I had walked all the way to the front of the store, where the civilians had been watching from. Sure enough, through the doors I could see a bunch of vehicles out in the lot, blocking the way through. Dozens of gang members stood out there, mostly normal guys armed with guns, but with several Touched mixed in. When the group saw me, they stiffened a bit and a few said something to one another. A couple brought their guns up. Other than that, none of them moved or tried to come after me. They seemed to be waiting for something, or someone.

Pack was probably lying low for the moment, waiting for a good chance to show herself. Letting out a breath, I took a few slow steps that way, watching the guys outside as they stared at me. The door whooshed open when I was close enough, and I stopped there, lifting my chin while watching for anyone who looked like they were about to shoot. My heart was trying to beat its way out of my chest, and I had to focus for a moment to stop my voice from shaking too much.

“Hey guys, you think you could have your tailgate party somewhere else? I don’t think this store really appreciates you blocking their entrance that much. Kinda scares off the customers.” 

Two figures stepped forward, one guy and one girl. The man was instantly recognizable with his red trench coat and welding mask. Coverfire, the guy who had come to Wren’s place before. The woman was another obvious Touched that I recognized from news reports. She wore a costume that consisted of a gray bodysuit with black armor panels and a black metal mask covering the bottom half of her face. She was part of the Ninety-Niners, named Ringside. As I understood it, she was a super-strong and tough Touched (A Brawn-Touched, as Flea had taught me) with a twist. Basically, her power allowed her to summon these glowing red rings and throw them. If they hit a person, they would be teleported close to Ringside herself, and both she and the target would be surrounded by a domed forcefield cage of sorts. Within the forcefield cage, Ringside’s own strength depended on how much of their own powers she allowed her opponent to have. She could weaken their powers, remove them, or leave them the same. The weaker or more non-existent they were, the less strength she had. If she left them with all their powers, she would stay at full-strength too, and for her, that was enough to bench press a small car. But even with people who were much stronger than she was, locking them in the ‘ring’ with her and cancelling all their powers meant they couldn’t rely on any of it. 

Ringside was part of the Ninety-Niners. So I supposed these two were representing each of their groups. Two groups that, as far as I knew, didn’t exactly get along all that well. Unfortunately, I probably wasn’t lucky enough for them to start fighting each other right now. 

“Seems to me you keep ending up in this kind of situation,” Coverfire informed me flatly, his voice somewhat muffled by the welder’s mask. “Should we bother telling you to surrender?” 

“I’d do it if I was you, kid,” Ringside put in. “Otherwise, soon as the bosses show up, you’ll wish you had. Cuz I don’t think their leader’s gonna be in the mood to play around.” 

Their bosses. That’s why these guys hadn’t charged in yet. They were waiting for their respective leaders to arrive. Hell, the gangs probably didn’t trust each other enough to start something without Cuélebre and Sandon (the Ninety-Niner leader) around. Though I had no doubt that if I tried to leave, they’d get over that really quick. For the moment, they were content to stand out there and just make sure I didn’t go anywhere. But when their leaders showed up…

Swallowing at the thought of just how pissed off Cuélebre was at me, I forced myself to reply, “You know, if it’s milk you guys are after, I’m pretty sure they’re having a great sale at the place just three blocks down. But you better hurry before it’s all gone. You know how crazy everyone in this town gets over milk sales.” The fuck was I even talking about?

“The fuck are you even talking about?” Coverfire demanded. 

“Language,” Ringside snapped primly. “There’s no need to be crude.” To me, she added, “Tell you what, you surrender to me and I’ll make sure that these goons and their psychotic master don’t tear you apart. I’ll even go one step further and promise that when we get what we want, you can go completely free. Scout’s honor.”

Growling angrily at that, Coverfire glared at her. “We have a deal, remember?”

She gave a short nod, dark eyes flicking to him as she calmly replied, “Our deal is to work together to hurt Blackjack and La Casa. Personally, I don’t have anything against this kid. Not yet, anyway. Besides, watching him make your boss chase him all over town for nothing was pretty funny.”

Coverfire flared up his force field briefly at that, but didn’t make a move toward her. I had an idea to maybe try saying something that could make them argue some more or even fight, but before I could, the automatic door suddenly closed between us. A second later, the metal security shield came down. 

For a second, I just stared at it, wondering what the hell was going on. I could hear the guys shouting on the other side that some dinky little metal door wouldn’t stop them, just before a voice came over the intercom system. 

“Paintball, get to the security office. Hurry, I’m pretty sure we don’t have much time.”

It was Eits. Oh God, it was Eits! Spinning on my heel, I ran back through the store, looking around until I saw a sign pointing to the employees area. Booking it that way, I saw Holiday pop her head out of a doorway and look at me, so I headed there. 

Sure enough, Eits was there along with Pack and her animals. They were all in the rather large  security office, and as soon as I entered, Eits turned from the computer screen to stare at me. “Whoa, you fancied up your costume. That’s a pretty cool— wait, that’s all your paint stuff, isn’t it?”

I stared at the boy. “How did you get here so fast? Hell, how did all of you get in the store?”

Pack answered. “I texted him as soon as we saw the bitch in the sky. We’re, uh, let’s just say we’re not too far away from his place.”

Eits gave a short nod. “I made it over here and messed with the lights on a couple cars in the back to distract the guys back there long enough for the lizard gang to deal with them so we could get in through the loading dock.”

Brightening at that, I asked, “Great, so we can get everyone out that way?”

He winced, gesturing to the nearby security screen where I could see a view of the back lot. It was full of bad guys. “Turns out they had reinforcements. A lot of them. We just managed to get inside. And now we’re stuck here with you.” As soon as he said it, the boy instantly began fumbling over his words, “I mean, not that being anywhere with you feels like being stuck, or like it sucks, or… I mean, that wasn’t—”

Raising a hand to stop him, I interrupted. “Believe me, dude, being offended is basically the last thing on my mind right now. What about all the customers and employees?”

“Manager’s office,” Pack replied. “They all locked themselves in there. It’s kind of cramped, but I don’t think they’ll go anywhere anytime soon.” She looked to me then. “What about That-A-Way? You were trying to call her, right? Tell me she’s got cavalry on the way.”

“I dunno,” I admitted. “We got cut off before she could say anything after I told her what was going on. Hopefully. But either way, it could take them some time to get here, especially if all those guys are really causing so much trouble in the city. And our friends right outside are just waiting for Cuélebre and Sandon to show up.”

Pack cursed. “Right, so the only reason they haven’t come in yet is because they’ve got two of the biggest of the big guns heading here to finish the job themselves. And we can’t go anywhere because they’re all standing guard. At least the car took off with the other vial. That had to be the kid, right?”

Confirming that, I exhaled. “So, we’re stuck in here, waiting to see who shows up first, our help or theirs. And call me crazy, but that’s not exactly a bet that I’m super eager to make. Not when losing means facing down a giant demon dragon thing with lightning powers.”

Pack shook her head. “Unless you’ve got a teleporter in your pocket no one bothered to tell me about, what else can we do? Make a run at them wherever there’s the least amount of Touched, break through the line, and run for it?” 

Eits grimaced. “I uhh, don’t think that’ll work. I’ve been watching these guys on the cameras and they are amped and ready to go. No way we break through one line before the rest dogpile on top. Not without some kind of distraction.” 

Thinking quickly, I replied, “Then we distract them, by getting them to come in here after us.” They both stared at me like I’d lost my mind, while I pushed on. “We get them to come in before their leaders get here. We get them to break the line and try to catch us in the store. Then we get out, and we make sure they know we got out so they chase us and leave the people here alone.”

“Fantastic, as long as the random civilians will be safe while we’ve got half the members of two different gangs chasing us,” Pack muttered darkly. “If you don’t stop making me do heroic shit, I’m gonna get hives.”

Eits looked back and forth between us briefly before asking, “How do we get them to come in here and break their little line before their leaders show up? Cuz I don’t think we’ve got much time.”

I was about to confess that I wasn’t really sure, when a figure abruptly stepped through the nearby wall. Everyone spun that way, Pack snapping a new shotgun up while Eits also produced a pistol. The lizard creatures were up and moving too. 

“Wait, wait!” I blurted, belatedly recognizing the figure. It was Syndicate, leader of the Minority. Or one of his four bodies, anyway. 

He turned solid once it was clear no one was going to shoot him. Or maul him, in the case of the animals. His voice was tense. “Way said you needed help.” He glanced to Pack. “And that you helped at the hospital. She didn’t say anything about him though.”

“He’s helping and we need him,” I said flatly. “Are you guys really…”

He nodded. “We’re set up outside, just beyond the lot. Most of us, anyway.”

Pack asked, “Why isn’t That-A-Way popping in here? No offense, she’s just a lot nicer to look at than you. And, you know, she could just teleport us all right on out of here, problem solved.”

Syndicate shook his head. “She and the others came in from the wrong direction. This place is south of them, she can’t teleport, or use speed. She was going to try to work her way far enough around and down, but I told her to wait, because I wanted to see what was going on in here myself. And on the way in, I heard a couple of the guys out there saying that Cuélebre and Sandon should both be here in ten minutes. So, more explanations can come later. I also heard you talking just now about luring them in and then booking it. You think they’d break ranks if they thought the thing they were after was about to disappear? It’s those supersoldier vials, right? You’re trying to stop the war on the streets from getting worse by getting them back for Blackjack. I get it, whatever. The point is, we make them think they’re about to lose their chance. They didn’t see me when I came in, but if they saw another of me come running, especially if I pretended to say something in my comm about getting the vials…”

“They’d chase you in,” I realized. 

He nodded. “I can have the other me come in through the front entrance. The others are around the back. Soon as the guys out front break ranks and chase the other me in, my team outside and everyone in here all hit the ones in the back from both sides and book it. With the guys out front already coming into the building, there’ll be confusion all over the place about what’s happening. At least for a few seconds. Should be enough chaos to get everyone to Way so she can teleport. Then we’ll be gone, and they won’t have any reason to stick around here, so the civvies’ll be safe.”

“I’m surprised you’re not insisting that we stand here and fight the bad guys,” Pack observed.

“Two gangs including their leaders are about to descend on this spot,” Syndicate reminded her. “Having a fight here would be stupid both for us, because they’re a lot stronger than the group we can put together, and for the civilians in this store who would be caught in the crossfire. The smartest thing to do is get the thing they want out of the store, make sure they know it’s not here anymore, and get away.” 

Eits, who had been silent up to that point, raised a hand. “Uh, just one thing. Once we get out of here, we get to leave.” He gestured to himself, Pack, and the lizards. 

“Yeah, don’t worry,” Syndicate assured him with a note of sarcasm, “I’m sure we’ll catch you another time. But right now, we don’t have much left before the situation gets a hell of a lot worse. So, are we doing it or what?”

Glancing to the others until they nodded, I turned back to the boy. “Okay then. 

“Let’s do it.”

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Pursuit 4-04 (Summus Proelium)

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Spinning back to the other two, I blurted, “Okay, all those guys have either powers or guns or both. The point is, we need to get out of here. Like, now now. Is that remote gonna help us leave?” As I was speaking, I made three separate lines of green paint, running from my ankle up to my waist, appear on my right leg. A second later, I did the same on my left leg with purple paint. I didn’t power it, I just made it appear. 

One of the guys I had handcuffed called out, “Or you could fucking surrender, hijo de puta! Maybe Cuélebre’ll actually let you keep one of your lungs!”

Fred stared at the man for a moment, while Wren started running back toward her lab. “This way!” With a grunt, the man turned back to follow his niece. I was right behind him. 

Just as we reached the spot where the stairs were, a hail of gunfire greeted us from below, making all three of us duck back away from them. Apparently the first group had made it through the doors down there and were already shooting. Which seemed like a really stupid way to get information out of any of us, but what did I know?

Someone down there must have agreed with me, however, because I heard frantic shouting to stop shooting. Then a new voice called up, “Hey! You give us the guy, or the thing he stole from that bank. Either way, then we leave you alone! You got it? That’s a good deal, right?”

I had a real bad feeling that they weren’t going to listen if we just told them we didn’t have either of those. I also saw Fred’s mouth opening to say so, so I shot a small glob of black paint to silence him before whispering, “The only reason they’re not rushing up those stairs right now and shooting all of us is because they think we might have what they want. Let’s not give them a reason to doubt that.” 

Raising my voice then, I called, “These things are worth a lot! You think we’re just gonna let you take them?” As I said those words, three triangles appeared on my left arm, along with three circles, and three stars. The triangles were orange, the circles purple, and the stars green. 

While a loud burst of murmuring started from the people below, I thought quickly before looking back the way we had come. Using red paint, I pulled two of the discarded guns to me, catching them in either hand.

“Do you even know how to use those?” Fred hissed, clutching his own weapon. 

From below, the guy who had spoken before called up, “You know, you’re in a bad position! But maybe we can work something out! Say, you walk out with a cool hundred grand!”

Shaking my head to Fred’s question, I focused on painting the guns in my hand white while calling back, “Hundred grand out of three million isn’t much of a share!”

While they were reacting to that below, I looked to the others. “On the count of three, run for it. One… two…”

I threw both guns over the edge of the stairs them, letting them fall a bit before triggering the paint. There was a sudden bright flash and screams from the men who were blinded. 

“Three!” I blurted, already scrambling to my feet to run across the opening. Guns were going off, but we were already past the opening and on our way into the lab.

The second we were through, Wren blurted some kind of code, and a heavy steel door fell into place. Hopefully that would buy us a little bit of time, though I had no idea how many of the Oscuro Touched had shown up. I was racking my brain, trying to remember what powers we had to deal with. But it was hard to think through all the panic. 

Wren was moving toward one of the tables of random junk, digging through it for something. Meanwhile, Fred looked to me. “You really think you can get us away from these assholes even if we get out of the building?”

For a second, I was quiet before nodding. “If we can get to the roof, I think I can get us to another building. Then we can go from there. But I don’t see what we’re supposed to be doing in this—”

“Got ‘em!” Wren blurted. We both looked that way to see her triumphantly holding up a pack of batteries. She took four out and shoved them into the remote I’d gotten for her, then hit a button on it. As she did so, part of the roof above us immediately began to retract. It slid aside, revealing open sky. 

“I like to see the stars sometimes,” the girl explained with a shrug before gesturing to the opening. “Are you guys coming, or what?” Even as she spoke, her dragonfly-like wings popped out of that harness once more and she hovered up off the floor. “Come on!” Her hand snapped out to grab a backpack that she had apparently thrown some things into before rising. 

“Kid,” Fred started, “how the hell am I supposed t—”

By that point, I had finished filling some of the blank space between the lines I’d made earlier with new purple, and sprayed a circle of blue under our feet. In the middle of the man’s sentence, I wrapped my arms around him, then triggered that purple bit and the blue on the floor all at once as I leapt. Between the new strength in my legs, and the boost from the blue circle, I completely cleared the hole in the roof, while Fred screamed in my ear. Really should’ve hit him with black paint again.

Landing easily on the roof, I let the man go. He stumbled to his knees and panted as Wren hovered nearby on her mechanical wings. 

Meanwhile, below us, there was a sudden commotion. I looked down through the hole in time to see the heavy steel door melt into slag. One of the Oscuro Touched came through, accompanied by several foot soldiers. I recognized the guy immediately, thanks to his long red leather trench coat and matching welding mask. His name was Coverfire, and his powers allowed him to sheath himself in a very close force field that was immune to most damage and also so hot it could basically melt through anything. 

Coverfire looked up through the hole in the roof and started to shout something, just as Wren hit the button to make it close once more. “Kay!” She chirped while gripping that backpack with one hand. “We can leave now.”

Right. Quickly, I sprayed a line of blue paint down near the edge of the roof. “Fred and I are going to jump off that circle there. It should get us to the next roof. From there, we can drop down and run. Wren, can your uhhh, wing… things keep up with that?” At her quick nod, I breathed out. “Okay, then let’s do it.”

“Wait, wait,” Fred blurted, “are you sure this is gonna work?” His eyes were wide with panic. 

Shrugging at him, I pointed to the spot of roof where the hatch was. It was already glowing red. Somehow, Coverfire was able to get high enough to start melting through it. I didn’t know how, since I was pretty sure he couldn’t fly, but I wasn’t going to question it. “You could always stay and talk it out with them.”

Grimacing, the man spun toward the blue circle and ran for it. I was right behind him, with Wren flying alongside us. I caught up easily, and we jumped on the blue circle just as I activated it, using that to launch ourselves over to the next building. 

We came down on the roof. Fred basically crashed into a heap, rolling with his fall as he cursed the whole way. Meanwhile, I painted my feet orange and landed easily in a crouch. While straightening up, I painted a sort of… comet shape on my chest. It was mostly orange, with a bit of black as an outline, along with purple and green flames trailing behind it.

We’d made it. We were off the first building. Now all we had to do was get down off the other side out of sight before they got people up on the roof, and then—

Fred suddenly started cursing extensively, and I quickly looked that way to see him peering off the edge of the roof near the shop we had just left. Moving that way, I looked down. 

Unfortunately, I didn’t have to look that far to see what he was staring at. The figure below was about half the height of the two-story building we were standing on. Fifteen feet tall, with enormous bat-like wings, dark blue-violet skin, and a long bladed tail, he was instantly recognizable. 

Cuélebre. It was Cuélebre, the leader of Oscuro. And he was looking right at me, a slow smile appearing on his enormous face. 

I didn’t stop to think. My hand snapped out and I grabbed the backpack out of Wren’s hands while blurting, “I’ll get it back to you, get outta here!”

With those words, I leapt off the side of the building while hauling the bag onto my shoulder. Painting my feet orange once more at the last instant, I landed on the ground just a short distance away from Cuélebre. Then I looked up. 

Ohhhh God. Oh fuck. Oh shit, shit, shit. He was even bigger from this angle. He was fucking gigantic. He was an enormous demon, watching me with a wry smirk on his face, which itself was clearly recognizable as a Latino man, even if it was purplish-blue. He was a fifteen foot tall, hugely muscular winged demon standing at his full, impressive height. Meanwhile, even when I was standing up, I barely topped five feet. And I wasn’t standing, I’d landed in a crouch. 

I looked like a mouse he might step on. 

“Well,” the man announced with obvious amusement, “this does save me the few seconds it would take to chase you down. I wasn’t expecting you to be this cooperative.” 

Strangely, for a man whose entire thing was to create a gang consisting only of Latino members, Cuélebre spoke with literally no accent. If I had closed my eyes, I could have believed that I was hearing any old white guy talking. And I dearly, dearly wanted to close my eyes. 

Instead, I rose to my much less-than-impressive height, squared my shoulders, and looked up at the man. “Your friend in there wanted to rip me off. A hundred thousand off of three million after all the work I’ve put into finding these— those vials? Why don’t you make a better offer and maybe I’ll tell you where they are?”

For a moment, the giant figure in front of me stared as though finding it difficult to believe I was that stupid. Behind him, some of his foot soldiers chuckled, saying some things in Spanish. 

“Well,” Cuélebre slowly drawled, “we could stand here and negotiate. Or you could hand over that bag.”

Making myself look at it quickly and, I hoped, expressing guilt in my body language and voice, I blurted, “What do you want my bag for?”

The smirk grew, and his tail suddenly flashed forward, stopping right in front of me as though waiting for me to place the bag on the bladed tip. “Call it a hunch.”

Shifting from one foot to the other, I hesitantly replied, “Well, I… I suppose… if you want the bag…”

My hands snapped up and back over my head, pointing to the roof of the building across the street while I finished with, “You can come get it!”

Before he or the others could react, the red paint I had just shot and connected to my red gloves yanked me up and backwards. I heard the man shout a curse as I was hauled across the street, spinning over in the air to face that way. 

Hearing gunfire and shouting behind me, I released the red paint and tucked my legs to overshoot the roof. Landing in a sprint, I raced for the opposite edge of the roof while painting the blank space on my legs green to speed myself up. 

Chancing a peek over my shoulder as I reached the edge of the roof, I saw Cuélebre as he hurled himself into the air, his wings beating down hard. He could fly. He was going to catch up with me pretty damn quick if I didn’t hurry the hell up. 

Hitting the edge of the roof, I leapt, snapping my hand out and shooting a glob of red paint at a billboard in the distance to yank myself that way. Behind me, I could hear my terrifying pursuer’s wings beating the air. Faster, Cassidy, go faster!

Landing on top of the billboard, I ran along it while Cuélebre shouted for me to stop. He was soaring over the roof I had just left, as I turned my feet purple for a bit of a boost and leapt from the billboard to another roof a short distance below. In mid-air, I spoke the code to make my skates pop out, landing smoothly right on the raised brick lip at the edge of the roof before rolling along it. 

Everything had started too quick for me to really think about what I was doing. My only thought had been to get this guy away from Wren and Fred. And now? Well, now I was basically running in a blind panic. If he caught me, and even worse, if he found out I didn’t really have the vials but had purposely tricked him into thinking I did so he would chase me? I really didn’t want to think about what he would do. Didn’t want to think about it at all

Less thinking, more running, skating, jumping, and fleeing. 

Hitting the edge of the new roof just as Cuélebre came down hard right behind me with enough force to shake the building, I shot a bit of blue paint right at the corner, launching myself upward and forward right before the man’s giant hand swept through the air where I had just been.

“Have you thought about working for my school?!” I half-frantically called back to him while landing against the wall of a taller building, using red paint on my right hand and right foot to hold myself there with a quick glance that way. “They could really use you as a truant officer!” 

Why was I trying to piss him off even more? The guy was already mad enough and definitely following me. I let out an almost cartoon-like meep as the giant demon-figure hurled himself off the last roof toward me, and used a line of red to yank myself away, back to the next roof over.

I landed on my wheels, activated one of the green lines on my legs. This is what they were for. I–well, I hadn’t known that I’d be running from fucking Cuélebre, but having paint made in advance had seemed like a good idea after what happened back in the shop. And it was sure coming in handy now. 

Glancing over my shoulder that time turned out to be a good thing, because Cuélebre was hovering in the air with his tail up, bladed end pointed at me while sparks danced around it. 

Oh shi–I dove sideways, activating a green mark on my leg and one of the orange triangles on my arm. An instant later, a bolt of lightning shot from the end of the man’s tail, slamming into the spot where I had been. He’d clearly toned the shot down from what he was capable of, trying to stun me rather than kill me (I’d seen news footage of a full-power shot from that tail taking out a car). Even then, it blew some of the bricks from the roof away, singing others. 

I was wrong, he hadn’t just been trying to stun me. He’d been trying to blow at least one of my feet off, if not a whole leg. 

Of course, things weren’t done getting worse. Even as I picked myself up from where I’d haphazardly thrown myself into the middle of the roof, I could see sparks dancing out from the impact site where the bolt had hit. It looked like static electricity or something dancing around the rubble there. Then, one by one, the broken pieces of metal, stone, and brick lifted themselves into the air. 

Yeah, because having a lightning doom cannon attached to his tail wasn’t enough. The guy could dial the damage on the shot all the way from ‘blow through a car’ down to ‘stings a little bit,’ and every time one of his shots hit something, it sent out those bits of electricity that gave the man telekinetic-like control of any non-living material they hit. 

So to recap, Cuélebre was a giant demon with flight, vast super-strength, was basically invulnerable, had a lightning cannon for a tail, and could telekinetically control anything said lightning hit and didn’t destroy. I, meanwhile, had… paint. Whoever’s idea it was for me to pick a fight with this guy was an idiot. 

Oh. Right. 

Ducking as two larger bits of debris were hurled at my head, I shot a quick wave of yellow over the rest of the debris, hoping that the slowing effect would keep them off me as I spun to run away. In the process, I activated another line of green paint on my legs as well as one of the green stars on my arm just to boost myself even further. Then I hauled ass, running to the edge of the roof. 

Cuélebre was right above and behind me. I leapt from the roof, using red paint to yank myself to the next building over before skating along the wall. He sent several more shots around me, narrowly missing with each one, mostly thanks to the green paint keeping me going faster than he expected. Each shot blew bits of the building away, adding more to the debris that he kept flinging my way. I had to keep activating the orange triangles to avoid being knocked off the wall. 

From that building, I jumped to the roof of another and kept going. Run, run, run, ruuuuun! 

He was there. He was always there, right on my heels. I raced through the city, leaping from roof to roof, saved from screaming in a blind panic only by the fact that all of my breath was going toward running. If he caught me, if he caught me…

Eventually, I hit the edge of yet another roof. I could see a covered pedestrian bridge in the distance connecting two buildings in the nearby business park. As I ran for it, I’d barely crossed about three quarters of the roof when the whole thing shook under me as Cuélebre landed with a guttural roar that practically made me pee myself for like the seventeenth time in the past ten minutes. I didn’t dare look back. I didn’t need to, considering I could practically feel his breath on my neck. 

I heard and felt him lunge. It was too soon, I wasn’t going to make it. My only chance to avoid being caught and probably killed was…

I jumped. Using the last of the purple lines on my leg, I hurled myself straight up into the air rather than forward. I felt his massive form pass by right under me while I turned in a flip in mid-air, landing in a crouch on his back. His wings beat hard against the air, nearly knocking me off while the man himself let out a grunt of surprise. 

Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God! I was literally riding on the back of one of the most powerful and dangerous Touched in the tri-state area. And from the sound of things, he wasn’t exactly thrilled by that fact. That tail of his was already whipping up and around to smack me off of him. 

Quickly, I shot one glob of red paint at the incoming tail and another glob to the roof. My ten seconds on the purple paint wasn’t up yet, so I hurled myself up off of him while activating the red paint. “No thanks!” I called while his tail was yanked down, “I’ll just get off here!”

In the air, I snapped my hand out and shot another bit of red at the bridge across the lot. Cuélebre was already recovering, snapping his tail away from my paint, breaking the hold it had. The bladed end cut through the air right where I had been an instant before my new paint yanked me away. Giddy from my escape, I yelled back, “Seriously, truant officer, you could wear a cute little vest!”  

Soaring toward the bridge, I tucked my legs up to clear the railing and landed right inside between a couple of startled onlookers. 

“Are you stupid?!” I blurted without thinking. “Run!” 

Both of the men screamed, as a loud crunch filled the air and part of the roof of the bridge dented inward. Cuélebre was here. 

With a shriek of tearing metal, his tail was driven through the roof of the bridge. It narrowly missed everyone before being retracted lightning quick to come down again. That time, it came within a few hairs of splitting one of the men in half. 

Cursing myself (and them, to be honest), I painted part of my arms purple and lunged that way. I managed to catch hold of the tail and held on for dear life with one arm while grabbing onto the nearby railing with the other. “Run!” I repeated to the men who were frozen in terror. 

Thank fuck, they ran. Cuélebre tried to retract his tail again, but I was still holding on. For a second, anyway. I could feel his strength completely outstripping mine. He was going to rip that tail out of my grip, or rip me in half. Whichever came first.

Or, he was going to punch a hole through the roof with his fist, rip it open and glare down at me. Yeah, that was the one he went with. 

“Uhhhh…” I gave him an awkward nod while still clinging to his tail. “Sup?”

With a snarl, the demonic-man went to grab me. But I reacted quicker, releasing his tail and the railing. The purple paint was done anyway. Falling onto my back in the middle of the bridge as his groping hand narrowly missed me, I threw myself into a backward roll before he could correct his aim. The bag came off my back, but I snatched it up just in time while scrambling to my feet. Then I was running along the bridge, hearing the sound of Cuélebre scrambling along the roof above me while the whole structure shook around us. Every once in awhile, one of his hands would punch through the roof, or his tail would come lashing in from the side. I was running, ducking, rolling, jumping, twisting, doing everything to avoid him. His fingers would nearly catch my head before I rolled under them. His tail would sweep in and I would leap up and over it. He was only missing by millimeters. The end of the bridge leading into the building was close, but so was he. 

“Shit, shit, shit, fuck, shit, fuck!” My stunning verbal skills throughout this leg of my frantic escape were sure to win me an astounding number of grammatical awards. 

But I was there. I was right there, almost into the building. Unfortunately, Cuélebre noticed how close we were too, and leapt ahead. Just before I had a chance to get into the building proper, the enormous demonic figure literally slammed his entire body down through both the roof and floor. The whole end of it broke apart with a terrifying crash, shattering into pieces to leave a gap between the end of the bridge and the building. Cuélebre himself hovered there, glaring at me. Even better, the damage we’d done to the bridge was extensive enough that the whole thing was starting to collapse. With a loud grinding, tearing noise, the structure was swaying. The floor was literally starting to fall out from under me. 

Oh, and there were people far below who were staring up like idiots while the pieces of the bridge slowly began to collapse. The whole thing would fall any second, and they were just standing there. So, this whole thing was just… lovely, really. 

Activating the green comet flames on my shirt to speed myself up, I simultaneously turned the backpack white, with a small red circle, hurling the bag up toward my relentless pursuer. Reflexively, his gaze snapped to it, just as I triggered the blinding flash. He recoiled, buying me a second or two. 

In the meantime, I was falling through the air. Flipping over, I turned my feet red and used a quick shot to attach myself to the side of the building, facing downward toward the two idiot rubberneckers. Perched there, I pointed one arm at them while pointing my other hand a short distance away. Red paint sprayed from both, coating the two and a nearby park bench. As it activated, the onlookers were yanked off their feet and hurled sideways to crash into the bench an instant before the collapsing bridge completely gave up and crashed down right where they had been standing. 

Meanwhile, Cuélebre had recovered already and was grabbing for the bag. But I activated the spot of red I’d left on it while holding a red glove up, and the thing flew right between his hands and into mine.

Yeah, I could’ve just let him have it, but something told me that while it didn’t have the medicine, any Tech-Touched stuff Wren might have in there wouldn’t be good for him to get either. Or she could have family mementos, and I didn’t want to lose those either. 

Before I could move, Cuélebre was there. Hovering right in front of me, his massive hand caught hold of my body. I was suddenly crushed in his grip, while he glared. “That,” he announced as I felt sharp pain spreading, my bones seconds away from collapsing under the force, “is quite enough of that, little boy. You could have done this the easy way. But now, I think I prefer the–” 

He was gone. No, I was gone. I was somewhere else. Suddenly, I wasn’t in his grasp. I was standing in a parking lot somewhere. With a yelp, I stumbled and fell onto my backside. 

“Sorry!” Wren was there, hovering over me with an apologetic look. “It took a few minutes to get to the van, and then we had to set up the teleporter, and wait for you to have the bag back so we could use the beacon in it. Are you okay?” 

Beacon… teleporter… van… I was… I was safe. I was away from the demonic asshole. I wasn’t dead. 

I wasn’t dead! 

“We’re okay?” I asked a bit shakily. “We’re safe? No one’s around?” 

Her head bobbed up and down. “Uh huh. We weren’t followed or anything. No one’s here.” 

“Okay.” Slowly pushing myself up, I murmured, “Excuse me for just a second, okay?” As gracefully and carefully as possible, I stood, stepped away from the girl… and then proceeded to pump my fists in the air, jumping up and down as I cackled madly, laughing so hard I nearly peed myself. 

“Yes, yes, yes! Haaaaaa ha ha! Haaaaa! Take that, you giant demon asshole! What’d you get out of all that, huh? What’d you get out of chasing me? Tired! That’s what you got! 

“Hah!” 

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